Life is sometimes best shown in the obscure

Written in 365 Parts: 97: What Am I Looking At?

“So what am I looking at?” Drick took the proffered holopad from Lane and fired up the display. They were sat in Drick’s van. Lane had requested an immediate meeting and Drick had complied. Asking the Union to bankroll a job while owing them a favour was treading on dangerous ground. So being ultra respondent to their summons seemed the wisest course of action.

“You tell me.” 

Drick raised an eyebrow and then shrugged and looked at the image. It was, presumably, a live feed from a room with a table and four chairs. One of the chairs was occupied by an organic. There was another stood in the corner of the room. The person at the table wore rough, loose-fitting, street clothes that looked as if they had been bought recently. They were out of keeping with the very expensive boots on their feet, and clearly sophisticated tattoo tags visible on their wrist and neck. The person in the corner of the room looked like a Union enforcer. Big, overly pumped up muscles, street clothing that looked as if it had been thrown in the trash years before. They were presenting as male and packing a gun under one arm. “Someone annoyed you?”

Lane spoke into a comm link, and on the screen Drick was watching the Union man spoke. “Look up at the camera,” they indicated towards the view.

Drick was looking at an unfamiliar face. “Who are they?”

“You don’t know them?”

“No, why? Should I?”

“They have been making enquiries about you. Well, not at first about you. They started in the market where you had your little shootout. They were mostly asking questions about what happened in that fight. They paid in untraceable credit bars and they paid well. Enough people spoke and they must have got your name from somewhere. Anyway, then they started asking at a few Union bars about you, and naturally that worked its way to my attention.”

“How long?”

“Started about an hour after you had the fight over the market. But that news got around really quick and there was no secret about who was having a fight. It was well mentioned which security forces had been stupid enough to shoot up in our territory.”

“Right. Well I don’t know them, but they are asking about me. What were they asking?”

“General details from the sounds of it. Your name, who you work for, whether you had an unusual male with you.”

“They actually said unusual male?”

“Pretty much.”

“Well that is even more interesting. I think I should probably talk to them.”

“Is that wise?”

“If I only did things that were wise I would likely never do anything at all.”

Written in 365 Parts: 96: Fill It Up

“Well I had good suspicion that they were not entirely who they thought they were. The implant was a clue as it made no sense to fit such an extensive model and then disable it. I thought it might have been used to simulate a history and make it more real. But what you are saying seems to contradict that.” Drick stared at Rodero and then sank the whole glass of vodka, “fill it up.”

The glass refileed and another appeared next to it, whisky with ice. Rodero sat down. “The memories are too real, Drick. The way that the neurons interact with each other, the map of pathways in the brain. They have to have been formed over the years and not implanted. You can’t grow this type of complexity. The only way to grow this would be to take the exact time.”

“What do you mean?”

“If you wanted to implant these experiences you’d have to grow a baby and then raise it in a constructed world. In a sensory tank. And slowly form the memories over time. Then you’d have a brain that worked like Marsh’s mind. Fast growing this, or implanting it, would leave traces of the fakery. Even with the best technology it is hard to replicate a natural protein exchange at the neurological level. You might be able to do a few, but the whole mind, it would be inconceivable.”

“But it isn’t inconceivable to keep someone in a tank and simulate their entire life.”

“It would take years, the same number of years that you needed to fake. And why would you do that?”

“I don’t know. There are a lot of things that I don’t know. If we suppose that Marsh was made this way, how would we go about finding out?”

“You’re asking me! Well I guess you’d need a specialist in genetics and pharmaceutical biology for that. They might also give you some insight as to why you would want to do such a procedure. Hell we know it would be expensive. And, you know, it sounds like a huge waste of time to do it. So I wouldn’t do it.”

“Everything that doesn’t profit you directly is usually a huge waste of time to you.”

“This is true.” Rodero laughed and took a generous drink of the simulated whisky. “Do you want me to keep digging. I think it might be helping Marsh to free up some of their memories.”

Drick drained the vodka and gently shook the glass to prod Rodero into filling it once again. “Then keep digging.”

Written in 365 Parts: 95: Who They Really Are

“You wanted to speak?” the virtual world enveloped them completely and Drick noticed the fine lattice work of a high level security mesh being woven into the external interfaces. Drick sent a few experimental queries and noted that all external access was denied inside this particular program. There were few internal links to explore. It was a fully lockdowned construct. “And I guess you wanted it to be private?”

“I did, to both,” said Rodero appearing once again as the older organic male in the crumpled suit.

“So what’s the problem, Rodero. This network is private and can only be accessed by a select few people at my explicit behest. Why do you need the extra levels of security?”

“I am a cautious person, you know that, and I am also feeling just a tiny bit spooked. As I have some information, well I think I have something, but I am not sure what it means and it is weirding me out just a little. Mostly as I have no idea what is going on or why.”

“Lots of things do that to you, Rodero, you have to admit that most of it is because you are in fact a little weird and paranoid .”

“Well thanks for that. I did a little bit of exploration around Marsh’s implants liked you asked me to.”

“I remember. I wanted to have some idea how long they have been in there. I mostly want to try and reconstruct some ideas about how long they may have been conscious and deduce some of what has been done to them.” Drick sat down on a tall chair that was placed next to a smooth white table. Without asking a cold drink appeared on the table. “I am not sure what I was hoping to find if I am honest.”

“Well I found something.”

“Are you going to tell me what it is?”

“I thought you might want to start on the drink first. It is a very strong vodka. Simulated but it will act the same.”

“What’s it mixed with?”

“More vodka, you might appreciate that.”

“What did you discover?” Drick traced a line in the condensation on the outside of the cold glass, and allowed a small smile as a rivulet of it ran down the side to pool at the base.

“I was tracing the implants interaction with glutamate and the neuron responses. It is a bit obscure but implants have to balance between an observation and replication routine if they want to simulate the exchange between pre and postsynaptic neuron exchange.”

“I hope to shit this isn’t going to be a full biology lesson.”

“It’s important. Look all implants have to do this if they want to replicate data exchange between neurons. Okay the exact mechanisms are not as important as the efficiency of the operational matrix. Basically the implant isn’t part of the brain but it has to mimic it. Especially when doing complex work. The better the implant the better the response, but more importantly the longer the implant has been embedded the more accurate the simulation. The implants become so good that they can actually replicate and replace any neuron exchange in the brain with virtually no discernable difference.”

“Go on.”

“And the longer they do it for the better they get at it. This can be measured and the efficiency matrix gives us a figure to guess at how long.”

“How exact is it?”

“Well it doesn’t display an exact figure in time, it gives a level of maturity. So if you examined my oldest implant you’d probably be able to work out that I had it implanted when I was in my late teens. It is that sort of time period.”

“And?”

“Marsh has had his for pretty much all of his life.”

“All of his life? So he is either lying or has been programmed? How old is he?”

“It gets more odd than that Drick. I know this model of Implant. It is no more than thirty years since it was created in this system. Before that the Terran’s have probably had it for military use for maybe a century at most. The technology it uses is less than two centuries old. I think Marsh is the age they say they are, though I cannot be sure.”

“So there is no way that Marsh was born centuries ago.”

“This is where it gets weirder. I have examined all of his synaptic channels regarding what memories they have. They are complete and accurate. I am pretty sure that they happened at the ages of their life they remember. He has a memory of running in a countryside twenty years ago, when a child. That memory is there and it is about twenty years old.”

“So they faked that?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know if you can fake that. Maybe. But building a construct like that and getting an organic brain to replicate it, act like it, that’s seriously difficult.”

“I need more information. You need to get me more information.”

“I know. Look there are a few people who might be able to help more, but your best bet is to find someone who knows what they did to Marsh and who they really are.”

Written in 365 Parts: 94: The Night

 On the high desert the suns set quickly. They lit the sky first with a bright yellow as they dipped towards the horizon. This colour faded as the first glowing orb sank below the horizon leaving a cool ice blue wash from the smaller brighter heavenly body. But soon the land was wreathed in the shroud of night. As the sky shot to black the temperature plummeted and the winds strengthened. 

The moons were visible in the sky, as they were on most evenings. The regular shapes of floating platforms in low orbit could be seen on the horizon, but no platforms lay in orbit above this plateau. There were satellites in stationary orbit for geolocation, communications and surveying, but these were tiny and not visible to the unenhanced eye.

It was cold. Without protection it would take less than an hour for an organic to die on the plateau. In the dome the figure turned up the heating on their internal suit and made sure the doorway was fully sealed. They had a small electrical heater but it had not fully charged from the solar panels on the dome and there were more essential systems for the limited power in the cells.

The figure powered up the orbital communications system and set it to a steady pulse. The device had the capability to broadcast on a broad spectrum but the figure had set it to a very specific frequency. They checked that there was enough power to last the device until dawn, there was. They took a moment to eat and drink from a small survival kit before pulling a small, compact, bedroll from the kit. They carefully got into the bedding and sealed it onto the suit.

It would be a long, cold, night. According to the schedule they were given the contact would arrive anytime in the next three days so this may be a boring wait. But the figure was used to waiting and they could use the sleep.

Written in 365 Parts: 93: The Desert

The desert, which was also a plateau, stretched for hundreds of kilometres in every direction from the transport hub. This was the reason the hub was located in that place, it was almost an equal distance from every small colony on this desolate northern continent. There was little life between the colonies and few who lived out there. Though in truth there was plenty of life and it wasn’t really a desert.

A desert is an arid place that is lacking in life or the means to support life. The plateau was literally covered with life. However most of it was microscopic bacteria, and most of the rest a type of lichen that gave the ground its yellow-green appearance. There was a lot of water in this land, trapped in the rocks, though the rainfall was lighter than the city, and was not engineered.

The sky above the desert was a near white that scattered the brilliance of the suns making it harsh to see without filters. The high level of sulphur in the atmosphere at this level was the cause of the white light that was in stark contrast to the icy blues above the southern lands. Here the atmosphere wasn’t so clean as the regeneration plants were few and far between. It would be decades, maybe even centuries, before the atmosphere at this height, and location, was suitable for long exposure without filtration.

Out here there were few large structures, plants or landscape to hide a figure. You could view for miles using just optical scanners. The land was flat with little differences in height to hide. The ground had been contoured into smooth undulations with no deep valleys of large rocks by years of erosion. 

The figure on the scooter was visible for almost a hundred kilometres with even modest visual enhancement. A detection drone would be able to view for a thousand kilometres in every direction. It was a good place for a meeting that you did not wish to be closely observed. If anyone tried to watch you would spot them a long way distant. It was likely why it had been selected.

The scooter came to a halt in a small hollow and the figure dismounted. After quickly scanning the horizon with a handheld monitor it unpacked the small cases from the side of the scooter. A few moments of disassembling and the scooter was packed away. A few minutes more and a small survival dome had been erected and anchored into position. Almost immediately the synthetic skin of the dome discoloured and began to resemble the ground it was sat upon. Within a few minutes it was invisible unless you were very close.

The figure set up a small device on the roof of the dome, a small rotating scanner. It checked that it was functional and then set it to be the same colour as the dome, rendering it almost invisible. The figure went inside the dome and sealed it up. They had taken the second pack inside with them.

Written in 365 Parts: 92: The Road to Nowhere

Hooper had brought the hover vehicle to a slow descent making sure that only the minimal number of sensors were used to land the craft. The computer seemed to be sulking ever since they had tuned down the systems. The craft had a full autonomous mode with a military grade artificial intellect as a host system. It could easily fly itself and engage in some battlefield maneuvers. However as part of that it tended to consider the craft as one might consider a body. Right now it probably considered that Hooper had taped its eyebrows to its scrotum and asked it to do the macarena.

Hooper had been following the faint trace of the stealth suit via satellite for close to fourteen hours. The quarry was uber cautious, as was Hooper.

After leaving the mortuary facility the quarry had driven a mad trail across several levels, sectors, and cross routes of the city. Looping around and back upon themselves in a seemingly random pattern that would allow them to monitor vehicles. they were checking for pursuit and evading auto-detection algorithms of traffic cameras. Hooper had watched in bored fascination. They were good. They had changed vehicles twelve times. They had used an intelligent random generator that still allowed them to monitor their own route. They also had some significant support from an upper city gang. No doubt paid for their services but worth noting for future observation.

Hooper had taken the time to nap, using a sleep inducer with a close monitor tied to the vehicle artificial intellect to wake them if anything interesting development occurred. They had also made sure to stop and eat, using a good diner on one of the lower levels that also had showers. The shower was a sonic affair, no water and very little in the way of comfort. But it worked. They didn’t smell like they had slept in a van which was the desired outcome.

The quarry had eventually determined they were not being followed. That is when they had driven to a despatch centre near the main commercial port. There they had driven the last of the vehicles into a shipping container. After a few moments a small knot of gangers had moved in and sealed up the container placing shipping bills upon it. Hooper had used a local scope while parked over a mile distant to watch them.

The gang left and forty minutes later the container was loaded onto a magnetic train for shipment. Hooper had let the train leave, the destination was easily determined. The train was headed for the mining centre almost on the other side of the world, and far to the north of the city. It was on a desolate plain at over four thousand metres altitude. Few went their except to make money in the mines.

Hooper had made sure to get well ahead of the train and into an extremely high orbit. The craft Hooper was using was fitted with stealth observation drones. These had been deployed and they monitored the train arriving and the container being unloaded and stacked with thousands of similar containers.

This facility was completely automatic. Dependent on the shipment designation, and who had paid for its storage, the container could easily sit there until the wind turned it into particles of dust. It was a great place to hide. After a short wait of thirty minutes, a figure left the container from the side door, and made sure to seal the door again with a mini-welding torch. 

Hooper did not have a tracker on this figure, but that wasn’t too much of an issue, not yet. Hooper watched as the figure fastened up an environment suit, then they unpacked a small hover scooter and headed out into the desert.

Written in 365 Parts: 91: Memory of the Present

On one narrative level it was humourous for it to be seen as the great sleeper. The dreamer. The one who dreamt. The dream was continuous, unending and all encompassing. The dreamer dreamt the dream. The dream was everything.

The dreamer had a stream of understanding. It did after all dream the dream of everything and that must have at least some details. If you dealt with the word you might call this understanding a consciousness. You might call the everything just the memory of the present. All else really was less than the shadow of a dream. The future a mere illusion, the past a hologram with a perception bias.

It was asleep only in the sense that it had no actions that intellects obsessed with a waking stream of experience could detect. It dreamt, sometimes in the sense that there was no immediacy to most of its interactions.  It dreamt, sometimes in a manner that would seem fantastical. A participant in a story who can breach their own wall of conscious experience and see beyond. Objectively looking on to themselves as a prawn might gaze at the corpse of a whale.

The sleeper experienced existence in more than one working state. In this manner, some would argue it was a hive consciousness. But they would be wrong. The dream was too large for any single existence to define it. The whole sum of what an individual might know, discover, or relate was just a single sensory drop in the ocean of the dream.

The true nature to understanding the intellect of the sleeper. Why they dreamt the dream. Was to understand the problems of a mind stretched across distance and time. The breadth of qualia that made physical the dream was dispersed across the vastness of humanity’s expansion.

The depth of understanding available to the sleeper was great. It could draw upon knowledge, and experience, spread throughout the whole breadth of history. The dream was an inference of the whole stretch of probabilities whether real or imagined. But it was a cold understanding. Stimuli placed within the construct of a narrative to give understanding to events and their relationships. Most of it could be inferred in advance. Probabilistic models that determined whole societal, cultural, political futures mapped and proven.

This understanding was a gift and a curse. The dream had little joy to the sleeper. If you can build the whole narrative without needing to experience it then do you have any attachment to it? The exact pattern, when known, is not a dream but a show. Actors on a stage fretting out a short life. 

On the smallest scale it could exist. The sleeper could became a subject in the dream. In this way, time and distances could be experienced, and compared. In this way the dream could be given a soul. In this way it could change the dream it found so easy to predict. Perhaps it would no longer be cold.

Written in 365 Parts: 90: Juicy Information

They opened their eyes, the internal chronograph stated they had been resting for close to six hours. They felt a little dizzy which was to be expected as the implant would have been tied with the transfer. Autonomous systems that regulated the internal body chemistry would have been on minimum, their body would adapt if it happened for any extended period, but after a few hours it had little chance. They had felt this way before when transferring large data blocks. A long time ago they had kept all their most sensitive information in an internal store, and had to update copies whenever they logged on to a new network. That was a similar sensation.

“Sir,” the voice was unfamiliar, it took a moment for the features of the medical technician to swim into view. “Sir, you should have taken a longer rest, how are you feeling?”

“I am fine,” they said through numbed lips. “Just a little overwhelmed. Get the technicians in here and get them to shut down the connection. It is useless now. I have wiped everything and no longer need the service.”

The medic nodded at the guard on the door who turned. “Did we get everything?” They asked.

“Yes I did.” A short laugh, “I told Drick that it was for nothing. They scored nothing, and when I get out of here I am going to hunt down every person who helped them and have them flayed.” There was a pause, “What do you mean, we?”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” said the guard looking at the medical technician.

“We got everything.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” They tried to stand but the world suddenly swam around their eyes. It was a moment of panic, perhaps they had taken too much data, were they losing grip on reality. Then the realisation hit them. This wasn’t reality.

The construct program slowly fell away and the world came back into focus. They were in the same room, but they were still restrained. A thick snake of cables was attached to a hood that ran to their head and neck. They were wired into a network. Hardwired into a network. The figure of the medic had melted away to nothing, the guard was still there. They removed the helmet, it was Drick. Drick in bulky padded armour, and stepped up boots, to change their body shape. Drick was still alive.

“Hiya Sweetie.” said Drick, “thanks for all the juicy information.”

“No, it’s not possible.” They heard their own voice from a far distance, almost whimpering.

“Oh come on, of course it is possible. In fact it was easier than you think. All we had to do was crack open the back of your skull, directly feed into your implant’s medical test slot, and then we could do anything we wanted. To be honest, the more arrogant the personality The easier it is to fool, you just love the feeling of being in control. And the more layers of protection you have in software and hardware modules the easier it is for you to become complacent. Neat little double honey traps on the network connection module in your neck, pity we just bypassed it entirely by plugging directly into your brain.”

“You don’t know what you have done.”

“I think I do know what I have done. I have the information I required on the contacts who wanted me out of the picture. And, as a bonus, I have literally oodles of dirt on a substantial number of illegal matters in this system. There are so many important, and well-placed, organics in these files. Thanks for collating them and gathering such convincing evidence. That’s going to be super useful to me in recovering the funds this assignment is consuming. So, really, thanks for that.”

“You might as well shoot me in the head. Once they trace this back to me I am dead.”

“Oh, sweetie, don’t be so glum. You were dead the minute I took you in the club. They put a price on your head the second I had you. They know you are a danger. Right now they are probably considering who they have to purge from their own people. This is going to get really bloody if the level of competence and good judgement stays consistent.”

“Shoot me. Because if you let me live, I will do all that I can, to kill anyone who has even smiled at you.”

“I am not going to shoot you. And you are going to do shit to no one. When next you wake up, you will be over a hundred years from here. It’s time you went away. I am sending you to the future. Plenty of worlds out there looking for bodies to help tame them. You’ll find a place to call home. I have a one way ticket for you. Goodbye.”

Drick turned and walked from the room, ignoring the screams that tailed away as the medical team rendered the prisoner unconscious once again.

Written in 365 Parts: 89: Military Construct

The construct program they floated inside was clean and logical. Rather than create a whole virtual world it merely dropped an augmented reality on the existing world. Filing systems floated in the near and far distance, connected by coloured streams. Occasionally they would ripple and grow fatter as data packets traversed them, and the system showed the interaction. 

There were multiple floating pictographs for connected devices and systems, each with a data packet that could be pulled into sharp focus on a whim. The data would expand to show details such as connection status, device type and capability and importantly, security level. 

This system was intended for battlefield use so there were layer after layer of protection. No doubt active programs roamed the connection spaces, waiting for attacks so they could interrogate and eliminate. On a whim the current status of active defences was brought to view. In the distance a giant labyrinthe appeared and grew into focus at great speed. It was a nest of snakes each one swallowing the tail of the one before it. Millions of interweaving, overlapping security systems. They realised each snake was a program, actively engaged in a search and destroy protocol.

They flicked the vision away, mostly ignoring the stream of accompanying textual data that was spewing out below the image. Pretty but useless at this moment. Good to have, they would be making a request for a similar system for themselves at the next secure location. 

Connecting to their private network and storage units took longer than they wanted. The connection was so secure that it caused a slight, but noticeable, lag on the transfer. If it were a moment longer they would have been grinding enamel, but it was just there, like a high pitched whine for the impatient.

As the last set of security measures were disabled they breathed a sigh of relief. The status of the storage was at one hundred percent. They were fairly sure there had been no transgressions. The data was held in a quantum suspension, any attempt to access it would cause a detection. Even if it were completely inert and passive detection. Interaction of any form caused a change in the probability of the data suspension. This was detected and an alert would have been noted.

They did not waste time in admiring the strength of their security measures. If the hackers attempting to breach this place were good they would know that they were there. Any access causes a portal to be opened. Any portal can be made into a breach. It was archaic security wisdom: there was no way to stop a determined assault, you can only reduce the surface of attack. 

There was a pause while his implant calculated all potential space for memory storage, including areas of his brain not currently in usage. Then it calculated the total size of the store. There was plenty of capacity in his implants for the whole download, which was most satisfactory. He checked the connection and calculated the download time. It would take a little under four hours. 

The prisoner lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. This would take most of his concentration and would be very wearying, it would be best to get as much rest as possible.

Written in 365 Parts: 88: The Single User

While waiting, the medic allowed the recently imprisoned to sit up. They were patient as their body was checked, and a spray restorative applied to the scuffed skin that had been under the restraints. Several other armoured figures entered the room. Like the medic their armour was lighter. It was still whole body, hiding their faces behind large, egg-shaped, hardened resin masks. But there were no displacement screens to present fuzzy outlines so they were more distinguishable by body type and outfit.

For the most part they were technicians who carried out a battery of different tests and examinations of the room before setting up a small command post area. Boxes unpacked into desks of battle computer displays. The system looked like it could override enemy networks and host secure communications which was most satisfactory to the recent prisoner.

After what felt like hours, but was in fact only minutes, the technical team were ready and made a signal to the officer at the side of the bed. They turned. “Sir, the team is ready for you to connect now. They will instigate a safe connection protocol and then they will shut down all external monitors and recording so that you have a single access authority.”

“Good, very good.” He almost leapt from the bed but the medic placed a gentle hand on his chest to restrain him. “You will all receive a special bonus for this. I promise you.”

“Sir,” the officer said, “they are ready.”

 “Good,” he smiled. “Connect me and then you can all leave.”

“Sir my orders were to stay with you until we were ready to move you.”

“You can leave. Put me on a monitor or something.”

“Sir. I will not disobey an order. But I can stand in the corner of the room inside the door frame if that helps?”

“It is acceptable.”

They waited as the personnel moved from the room leaving a single technician and the original soldier. A nod to the technician indicated readiness. They had connected so often it was an instinct these days and so they were surprised to feel some trepidation. That was quickly lost as the data stream picked up. They were surprised at the connection speed and the cleanliness of the military construct program. They had encountered similar programs in the past but none so fast. Maybe it was because the entire system was dedicated to them.

They connected to the remote node of their secure storage network and awaited the intense battery of identification procedures they would have to endure. They knew that the first task to complete once passing the security was to pull a copy of the whole database and then wipe this location. Even if Drick’s people were magicians they wouldn’t have found a way into this store. Not in the time they had. But time was a luxury and give a good team long enough and nothing was impossible. Better to move the whole store to a new location and leave them with nothing.